When Stephanie, the director for the Prairie Players’ upcoming production of Arsenic and Old Lace, handed around a list of required props, the word “doilies” jumped out at me and I signed my name beside it. Though I haven’t used them in years, I knew exactly where to find half a dozen or more handcrafted doilies.
I suspect my grandmother (my mom’s mom) learned how to crochet as a very little girl and I never saw her go anywhere without her crocheting in hand. She taught me how to crochet when I was eight or nine. I’ve stuck with yarn, though. I never had the patience for the delicate work required by fine crochet cotton and miniscule hooks.
Granny Baker produced doilies, table cloths, afghans, slippers, and more. For years, MCC gave her their unsellable sweaters which she’d unravel, knit into mittens or slippers, and return to the store where they’d sell like hotcakes. My children each received one of Granny’s afghans when they married, even though she had already passed away and left the colorful blankets behind for them in trust. I’m confident not one of my siblings or cousins is without at least one item lovingly made by her.
But she was definitely most famous for her doilies. I bet every bride within a 25-mile radius of Amaranth received a set of her doilies between 1940 and 1980. Only God knows the number of stitches Granny Baker’s hands made over the course of her 91 years on this planet.
For years, I used my doilies faithfully as a pretty way to protect furniture from scuffs or provide a bit of cushion under breakable knickknacks. Once a year, I’d wash the doilies and take them to Granny to starch—a tedious task which involved dipping each doily in a cornstarch and water mixture and then pinning it to heavy cardboard on which several concentric circles had been drawn, using hundreds of straight pins. This resulted in a perfectly symmetrical, stiff-as-a-board piece of intricate lace no household should be without.
I’m not sure when doilies went out of fashion, but at some point, I declared mine mere dust collectors. Not ready to part with these heirlooms, however, I washed them and stored them in a box. I certainly can’t predict whether they’ll ever make a come-back. Pintrest is probably full of great ideas for what to do with doilies and maybe one day I’ll take the time to look. In the meantime, it’s lovely to see them getting used to beautify the set for a story that takes place in 1939. I think Granny would be pleased.
You can see Granny Baker’s doilies—and a lot of other old stuff—on stage at the William Glesby Centre when The Prairie Players present Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace” November 11, 12, 13, and 14. The first two nights are the play only and the last two are dinner theatre. Call 204-239-4848 or stop by the Glesby Centre for tickets or more information. You can also buy tickets online at www.glesbycentre.com